Florida men’s basketball coach Mike White doesn’t shy away from discussing the Gators half-decade of losing to Florida State when the question inevitably arises.
While White admitted “it would be nice” to snap the five-game losing streak against FSU and emerge victorious over the Seminoles for the first time in his UF coaching career, the 1 p.m. tip-off against FSU will more so indicate the state of the current Gators rather than act as a reflection of White’s coaching acumen or a representation of the program as a whole.
The Gators face too many tough opponents — UF’s non-conference schedule is ranked No. 2 by CBS Sports — to be concerned with results from years past.
“It’s always nice to beat an in-state rival. It would be a break-through opportunity for us. As of late, They have, obviously, as of late, dominated this series and we’ve got a chance to end it,” White said, “I don’t know how dissimilar it is to just beating an ACC opponent or an SEC opponent. We’ve got a ton of these opportunities all year. This is the first one. If we’re thinking about streaks and rivalries, and adding noise to the fact that we’re already trying to decrease the level of noise that we’re dealing with in our locker room, than I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice. It’s about which team plays better Sunday afternoon.”
Both the Gators (1-0) and ‘Noles (0-1, 0-1 ACC) would acknowledge they’re a work in progress. UF opened the season with a double-digit win Tuesday over North Florida, yet it was outscored in the second half. Meanwhile, FSU went wire-to-wire against Pittsburgh before suffering a 63-61 loss in a rather physical contest Wednesday.
Florida State committed 27 fouls to Pitt’s 16, and the Gators familiar with last season’s Seminoles are expecting a similar hard-fought contest today. That 21-point loss in Tallahassee to open last season not only left a bad taste in UF’s mouth in the early going — it reflected how far away the ’18-19 group of Gators were from a physicality and defensive standpoint.
“I just feel like last year our focus wasn’t good at practice, so it carried over to the game. I think that’s why the outcome went that way,” said sophomore Keyontae Johnson of UF’s 81-60 loss. “It welcomed me to college basketball. They deny every pass — like certain teams play different — so it was just shocking to see how hard they play defense-wise and how much they gamble for loose balls and rebounds.”
But, like the head coach, these Gators simply seem focused on the first test of their mettle.
“We’re going to go in to practice (Friday) and tomorrow and prepare for it, but it would be amazing to be a part of (snapping the streak),” said freshman guard Tre Mann. “Me, Andrew (Nembhard), Keyontae (Johnson), Noah (Locke) and (Gorjok) Gak, we went out to watch Florida State play the other night. And, I’m a freshman so I didn’t really know what it was like last year, so I asked them. They were like ‘Yeah it’s going to be crazy. They’re going to be denying, playing physical.’ So I’m ready for the challenge.”
Keyontae Johnson F 6-5 231 So. 7.0 ppg 7.0 rpg
Kerry Blackshear Jr.F 6-10 241 Gr. 20 ppg 10 rpg
Andrew Nembhard G 6-5 193 So. 2.0 ppg 4.0 apg
Noah Locke G 6-3 207 So. 14 ppg 2.0 3fg
Tre MannG 6-4 172 Fr. 11 ppg 4.0 rpg
RaiQuan GrayF 6-8 260 RSo. 7.0 ppg 3.0 rpg
Malik OsborneF 6-9 225 RSo. 2.0 ppg 9.0 rpg
Trent ForrestG6-4 210 Sr. 19.0 ppg 2.0 rpg
M.J. WalkerG 6-5 213 Jr. 4.0 ppg 5.0 rpg
Devin VassellG 6-7 194 So. 14.0 ppg 2.0 rpg
Notes: Florida meets Florida State in the Sunshine Showdown looking to reverse a five-game skid in the series … The Gators enter coming off a 74-59 win over North Florida in their opener Tuesday and were led by preseason SEC Player of the Year Kerry Blackshear Jr.’s 20 points and 10 rebounds … Both teams have an influx of new players, as Florida rolls out five freshmen and Blackshear, while FSU has 6 new players on its roster … The Gators look to extend their current streak of three straight NCAA Tournament bids, which is already the third-longest streak in Florida history.